Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Sermon

December 11, 2011

The Third Sunday in Advent

Gaudete Sunday

So you got your kid the latest video game system for Christmas and you’re glad that you are not going to hear him (or her) say, “Dad, will you help me set this up?” In such an unlikely event, you’d be rushing to the manual, which would do you no good whatsoever because you know that you’d have a better chance of understanding it if it were written in Mandarin Chinese.

The child, flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, has no such problems. He doesn’t bother to crack the manual. He sets it up and parks himself in front of the monitor where he gradually lapses into a semi comatose state in which he’ll remain until school starts.

Your child is not unusual. Few people want to be bothered with weighty manuals. While it’s certainly true, as the apostle John says, that “In the beginning was the Word”, in this day and age at the dawn of 2012 there aren’t many people who want to take the time to read any words at all; or at least not unless it is on a IPad, Kindle or Nook.

Americans today are buying the most sophisticated computers, IPads, tablets or readers, the sharpest video game systems, the snazziest automobiles, the most versatile smart phones that do everything except cook for you and then we forget, decline or simply refuse to read the directions.

Owner’s manuals, care guides, troubleshooting Web sites, how-to directories? Too much trouble. “It’s too time-consuming and I’m impatient,” or “I’d rather watch someone else doing it, and then I can ask why”, “I’m a hands-on person; I learn by doing” and any myriad of things some of us might say.

Reading the manual. For many, it’s simply not going to happen. The implications of this trend are disturbing, in both our economic and spiritual lives. Failure to read the instructions makes products more expensive, because manufacturers have to provide toll-free help lines to provide simple answers to simple questions.

Q: Why doesn’t my washing machine start?
A: Because the lid is not closed.
Q: Why won’t my computer printer work?
A: Because it’s not plugged in ... because the ink cartridge is not properly installed ... because there is no paper in the printer.

These questions and answers may seem silly or cynical, but sad to say they are true. Ignoring instructions is turning out to be a high-priced habit. For some people, no amount of clearly written instructional material is going to make a bit of difference.

For the rest of us, however, reading the manual is essential - as consumers and as Christians. It is in the manual called the Bible that we can find answers to so many FAQs, such as:

• What should I be doing with my life?
• How can I make a fresh start?
• Where’s the guidance I need for happiness in my relationships?
• What’s the point of the day-to-day grind I’m experiencing?
• How can I make the best use of the time and money and talents that I have?
• Where’s the evidence of God in this world?
• Why do really nasty things happen to innocent people?
• Is there more to this life than I can see?

The Bible contains stories and letters and prophecies and commandments with answers to these questions, and it rewards our attempts at careful and prayerful study of its 66 books; 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament. (Or for Catholic Bibles, there are 73 books. 46 Old Testament and 27 New Testament.) Certain lessons are much better learned through Holy Scripture than through personal trial and error. But the Bible is big, let’s face it - it’s an enormous owner’s manual, containing over a thousand pages in most translations. There’s just no way that we can master it in a single sitting.

Many desire a user-friendly version. I’ve personally read the Bible cover to cover five times. Twice like a novel, and three times in a yearlong 365 day segment version. But, few people will do anything remotely like this today. We all want the quick answer or solution. Being a Christian; being a Catholic is a way of life, and it simply doesn’t come quickly. It takes time, perseverance and a good manual.

Fortunately, John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. This pre-existent Word of God was part of the very creation of the world, and brought both life and light into our midst. Best of all, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”. The Word of God became human in Jesus Christ and lived among us, so that we could see the perfect grace and truth of God at work in human life. In Jesus, God’s Word is not only 66/73 books spread out over a thousand-plus pages; it is also a living, breathing, loving, forgiving, healing, teaching, leading, guiding, correcting, consoling, challenging and comforting human being.

Jesus is not a Word we sit down and read. Instead, he’s a Word we watch and hear and imitate and follow. No form of instruction could possibly be more user-friendly.

To follow this Word-made-flesh is to accept that Jesus is at the heart of our interpretation of Scripture. Does a particular interpretation conform to the teaching, activity, example, life, death and resurrection of Jesus? If so, then it’s a correct interpretation, and a valid form of instruction. If not, then we should scrutinize it.

Pick a difficult problem, any difficult problem: capital punishment, abortion, welfare reform, war, gay marriage and any number of topics on a seemingly endless list. Then plug in a popular Christian solution, and ask yourself, “Does this solution conform to the example of Jesus Christ? Does it support his great commandment to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind - and to love your neighbor as yourself? Does it spread the love given by God, commanded by God and shown by Jesus?” If it fits the life and teaching of Christ, you’ve got a winner.

It is certainly true that there aren’t many people today who are willing to slow down long enough to read the fine print of various owners’ manuals, care guides, troubleshooting Web sites, and how-to directories. And it’s equally true that there aren’t many among us who are going to take the time to do a careful study of the rules and regulations of the Old Testament books of the law.

That’s why we need the Word made flesh. That’s why we need someone to come down and pull us out of trouble, save us from our sins, lead us by the hand and inspire us to follow the way of God. In our word-avoiding world, we need a picture, an icon. Now we have it: Jesus Christ the Lord.

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,” says the writer of Hebrews. That was the age of instructions, the era of detailed how-to directories. But “in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (1:1-3).

In the coming of Christ, we have now been given a far more wonderful and user-friendly guide: the flesh-and-blood Son of God.

To find the answers to life’s questions, we can do no better than looking to God’s Son. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. Heir of all things. Creator of worlds. Sustainer of all.

• When we are searching for direction and guidance, he can lead us.
• When we are desperate for forgiveness and new life, he can fill us.
• When we are hungering for meaning and insight, he can satisfy us.
• When we are looking for holiness in the swirling chaos of current events, Jesus can reveal himself to us.

To all who receive him, according to the gospel of John, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God. Advent is the time we most especially seek God Incarnate; Jesus the Christ. The Messiah come as a child; come as a human being, in our flesh to connect with us, because we simply won’t read manuals; at least not in the traditional way.

God Love You +
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.